How the USA practices so-called ‘coercive diplomacy’

A new name for an old imperialist game.

Proletarian writers

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Coercive diplomacy is a new name for an old game: might is right. Back in the 19th century, the British imperialists invented the term ‘gunboat diplomacy’ for their version of this game, when they were forcing opium addiction onto the Chinese people against their will but allegedly in the interests of ‘free trade’ (ie, British capitalist profit-taking).

Proletarian writers

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We sum up below the evidence presented in a report by our comrades in the Communist Party of China, to which a few of comments of our own have been added.


Diplomacy is the art, science and means by which nations, groups or individuals conduct their affairs, in ways to safeguard their interests and promote their political, economic, cultural or scientific relations. It’s the practice of building and maintaining relationships and conducting negotiations with people using tact and mutual respect.

Or so online definitions would have us believe. But at an international level, when you’re an imperialist power, the art of ‘diplomacy’ takes on a very different aspect.

In the words of US president Theodore Roosevelt back in 1901, diplomacy is “speaking softly and carrying a big stick”.

One hundred and twenty years later, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken has clarified his country’s approach as being “committed to leading with diplomacy to advance the interests of the United States and to strengthen the rules-based international order”. And this is to be achieved through something called “coercive diplomacy”.

This may sound oxymoronic, but it is a standard instrument in the foreign policy ‘toolbox’ of US imperialism.

Coercive diplomacy for global containment

Coercive diplomacy is a concept first mooted in 1971 by a Stanford university professor called Alexander George to describe the use of threat or limited force to coerce an adversary to stop or reverse its action, and it’s the standard methodology of the United States in its pursuit of hegemonic world domination.

The USA operates a system of coercive diplomacy to pursue global containment and suppression in political, economic, military, cultural and other fields. No country is immune, with developing countries bearing the brunt, and even USA’s own allies feeling the heat.

Facts and irrefutable data reveal the heinous deeds of US coercive diplomacy and help us better understand the hegemonic and bullying nature of its activities, as well as the serious damage its actions cause to the development of all countries and the ramifications for regional stability and world peace.

The hegemony of the US dollar is an important foundation for US economic coercion. As an international settlement currency, the US dollar is used in a huge proportion of global trade and investment transactions, enabling the USA to pass domestic economic problems onto other countries by exporting its inflation and trade deficits.

The USA controls the pricing of many major global commodities and resources, oil in particular, and can therefore influence the economies and finances of other countries by controlling the exchange rate and interest rate of the dollar. As a currency of international sanctions, the US dollar occupies a central position in the global financial system, enabling the USA to cut off other countries’ dollar supply and trading channels and to impose pressure and sanctions by restricting the channels through which they can buy services or pay their international bills.

The nature of coercive diplomacy

So what does coercive diplomacy look like for nations that choose to pursue their own national interests rather than those of the US-approved ‘rules-based order’ (where the USA makes the rules and everyone else follows their orders)? Here are a few examples:

  • Since 1962, the United States has imposed economic, commercial and financial embargos on Cuba that continue to this day. The 61-year embargo has brought enormous economic loss and grave humanitarian disaster to Cuba and covers almost everything from fuel, food and daily necessaries to medicine, leaving the Cuban people facing a chronic and severe shortage of essential goods.
  • Since 2006, the USA has imposed draconian sanctions on Venezuela. During the administration of President Donald Trump, economic and financial sanctions were extended, essentially freezing all assets of the Venezuelan government in the USA and imposing sanctions on its oil, banking, and mining industries, severely impacting the Venezuelan economy. As a result, Venezuelan crude oil production fell from nearly 2.5m barrels per day in 2016 to just 300,000 barrels per day in 2020.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, US sanctions made it difficult for Venezuela to obtain materials to combat the pandemic and basic commodities such as food, drinking water and gasoline. According to a report by the United Nations special rapporteur Douhan on the ‘Negative effects of unilateral enforcement measures on human rights’, the sanctions left more than one third of the Venezuelan population in a serious food crisis.

  • Since 2006, successive US administrations have continuously strengthened sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). In 2017, the USA imposed further sanctions on the DPRK demanding that Swift cut north Korea’s banks off from the global banking network. The US sanctions on the DPRK include restrictions on trade imports and exports, prohibition on DPRK citizens from working overseas, freezing of their assets in the USA, and a prohibition on anyone anywhere forming economic ties with the DPRK.
  • Iran has twice been kicked out of the Swift system. The United States first imposed economic sanctions against the middle-eastern country in 1979. In 2012, the United States and the European Union deepened these sanctions by removing Iran from the Swift system, making it impossible for the country to conduct cross-border transactions using the US dollar, the euro or any international currency. As a result, the value of Iran’s own currency depreciated by about 38 percent in a year and Iran’s foreign trade fell into recession, with imports and exports falling sharply and crude oil exports cut by half.

In 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and once again kicked Iran out of the Swift system. According to a study by a US think tank, Iran has lost half of its oil exports and 30 percent of its foreign trade income as a result of the sanctions.

  • Since 2004, the United States has imposed 17 rounds of targeted sanctions on Belarus.
  • Since 1993, the US has imposed sanctions on Sudan that have led to a severe humanitarian crisis with children across the country dying of malnutrition, according to a report released by the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs in Sudan.
  • All-round sanctions on Russia were launched in 2014 with a ban on medium and long-term financing of Russia’s defence, finance and energy sectors. In April 2018, more sanctions were imposed on 38 Russian individuals and companies, freezing all their assets under US jurisdiction. In November 2021, the USA announced further sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project.
  • In violation of the principle of fair-trade tariffs, the USA launched a trade war with China in 2018, announcing a 25 percent tariff on approximately $34bn of goods imported from China. In August of that year, an additional 25 percent tariff on $16bn worth of Chinese goods was announced; and a month later, the USA announced yet another 10 percent tariff on $200bn of Chinese imports.

In May 2019, it was announced that tariffs on these $200bn of Chinese goods would be raised from 10 percent to 25 percent. The following August, it was announced that additional tariffs on about $550bn of Chinese goods exported to the USA would be raised, escalating the China-US trade war.

  • As a penalty for buying oil from Iran, the USA imposed sanctions on Mumbai-based petrochemical trading company Tibalaji Petrochem in October 2022. This was the first time the USA imposed sanctions on an Indian company for trading with Iran.
  • The pursuit of US interests shows no mercy for its allies either. In 1986, in response to the rise of Japan’s semiconductor industry, the USA forced Japanese leaders to sign the ‘US-Japan Semiconductor Agreement’, initiated a ‘Section 301 investigation’ against the country, and imposed trade sanctions on a variety of Japanese products such as semiconductors and computers. All this fatally undermined the competitiveness and potential of Japan’s semiconductor industry, leading to a fall in global market share from 50 percent to about 10 percent by 2019.
  • In 2018, the US government used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent and 10 percent on steel and aluminium products in several countries and regions, including the European Union, purportedly on the grounds of ‘safeguarding national security’.

‘Diplomacy’ backed by military might

The USA uses its military bases, diplomatic and intelligence agencies, non-governmental and media organisations, alongside other channels and resources such as academia and charities to collect information, exert influence, create public opinion, manipulate elections and support opposition parties, all in order to publicly or secretly, directly or indirectly interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

US coercive diplomacy is underpinned by a powerful military whose average admitted annual budget exceeds $850bn (the true number is far higher), accounting for 40 percent of the world’s total military spending and exceeding the amount spent by the next 15 countries combined. According to a 2020 report on US overseas military bases, the USA has more than 800 military bases around the world, with 173,000 people deployed in 159 countries across Europe, Asia, the middle east and beyond.

The USA frequently uses military force to initiate or participate in wars and conflicts of all sizes and forms. Between 1776 and 2019, it launched nearly 400 military interventions worldwide, half of which took place between 1950 and 2019, according to a Tufts university report. (Introducing the Military Intervention Project: A New Dataset on US Military Interventions, 2022)

Since World War 2, major wars initiated or launched by the USA include the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the Gulf war, the Yugoslav war, the Afghan war, the Iraq war, the Libya war and the Syria war. Proxy wars are a common form of US military interventions, with countries such as Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen suffering, among many others.

Exported ideology aims to maintain the illusion

The United States uses its cultural products to promote ‘American values’. Hollywood films account for more than 70 percent of the world’s market share. The values and lifestyle of the US are closely linked to its films and television programmes, publications and social media. Government-funded non-profit cultural institutions also play a huge role in shaping a space for public opinion that sustains American cultural hegemony, whilst covertly engaging in ideological infiltration via culture, science and technology.

US-led western media and international social media forcefully prop up and boost US coercive diplomacy. The USA’s double standards regarding freedom of the press, inflammatory propaganda and exploitation of its cultural hegemony all work to infiltrate, subvert and erode the cultures and ideologies of other countries.

Under the guidance of the concept of ‘America First’, US hegemony, unilateralism, protectionism and nationalism have become increasingly fierce. The USA, putting the interests of its own imperialist ruling class first, has no interest in furthering the cause of peace and development so urgently needed by the impoverished masses of the world.

A changing world order

To try to maintain its hegemonic position, the USA is withdrawing from all international treaties and goals that it once hypocritically espoused but that it now finds inconvenient to its activities.

The 17 goals of the United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development, including the eradication of all forms of poverty throughout the world, the eradication of hunger, the realisation of sustainable economic growth, sustainable industrialisation, the reduction of inequality within and between countries, and sustainable cities and human settlements have been put out of reach by US coercion, and the cause of global development has repeatedly been frustrated.

The United States is the inventor and master of coercive diplomacy. As US scholars have pointed out, the essence of US coercive diplomacy lies in the idea that “you are either with us or against us. The US should lead, and its allies should follow, and the countries that oppose the supremacy of the US will suffer.”

This is simply another way of expressing VI Lenin’s observation that “imperialism seeks domination not democracy”. Coercive diplomacy is a new name for an old game: might is right. Back in the 19th century, the British imperialists invented the term ‘gunboat diplomacy’ for their version of this game, when they were forcing opium addiction onto the Chinese people against their will but allegedly in the interests of ‘free trade’ (ie, British capitalist profit-taking).

Coercion is an essential element of every class society. The only way we can do away with it is to abolish the capitalist-imperialist system of exploitation of one man by another and one nation by another.